Two heavy wooden doors hang wide open on a towering white arch entryway, its beautiful stucco and adobe-colored frame crowned with climbing ivy. A welcoming party of two friendly golden retrievers greets me on the inside with some necessary barking and tail wagging. It’s a different world on the inside of the arch, where lush botanical gardens and blue and white mosaic fountains create a sensory paradise. As I roll up the driveway, a second dose of warm hospitality, a squawk and a “hello” comes drifting through my open car window, courtesy of a brightly colored, feathered friend.
I have arrived at the beautiful Rancho Las Lomas property in the community of Silverado, on the northern fringe of Lake Forest, California. Founder Richard “Rick” Lawrence, a successful developer in Newport Beach, obtained the 32-acre estate in 1977. As legend has it, he won it betting on a horse race; though unconfirmed by the Lawrence family, the fable does add to the romantic mythos of the land. In the years that followed, Rick and his wife Jeannie began populating their little slice of heaven with charming mementos from their travels: a London phone-turned-photo booth and hand painted murals from Portugal, just to name a few. Today, the Lawrence’s son Brett runs Rancho Las Lomas as half picturesque special event venue and half wildlife sanctuary non-profit.
To begin the tour, guide Rebekah Owen first takes me to Darwin, the talkative yellow-naped Amazon parrot. In fact, Darwin has quite the vocabulary and can articulate over 100 words. While on the verge of being endangered in their rainforest home, the species, along with other varieties, are thriving in areas of Orange County, but yet aren’t considered invasive. This is due to the fact that their entire diet consists of other nonnative, tropical fruits and plants. Rebekah says it is possible that one day the successful population here might help replenish the failing one farther south.
Education is a large part of Rancho Wildlife Foundation’s mission. Through field trips for local schools, they hope to spark a connection between the community and the natural world and teach that every creature deserves compassion and respect. Several of the animals on site were taken in after injury or saved from disagreeable circumstances. When she was just a cub, Lily, the resident white Bengal tiger was rescued from a photo attraction facility in Kansas. After a visitor was attacked by one of the cats there, that animal had to be put down and the park closed. At Rancho Las Lomas, Lily is protected from dangerous situations for both the guests and herself.
As we continue the tour, my attention shifts from the animals to the gorgeous architecture. Vibrant rose bushes and potted ferns line the pathways, effectively blending the surrounding environment with the buildings. The white stucco and terracotta roof tiles tie each structure together, yet they all have their own unique character. Across a lavish mosaic bridge, flanked by two impressive sycamore trees, there is a plaza with a dais at one end. It may be empty at the moment, but it’s not hard for me to imagine why someone would want to get married here.
Rancho Las Lomas hosts an average of 125 special events a year, and most of those are weddings. They offer three venues, each complete with its own bar: the Grand Salon, La Terraza, and El Teatro, where I now stand. During receptions, twinkling lights add to the romantic ambiance of the open-air theater, which can seat 375 guests. Within the Grand Salon, the bride and groom can say their vows in a building imbued with history, as the Lawrence family once called it home. Stonemasons constructed the interior fireplaces with materials from nearby Aliso Creek, and local artists crafted the numerous stained glass windows. The terrace is another outdoor option, with a grand wooden staircase as the backdrop and an oak and prickly pear grove as the setting.
We end our tour at an attractive barn, fashioned into a swanky yet rustic beer garden. The Lawrence family is also in the brewing business. There, on weekends, you can sample some Towne Park Brew Co. drafts, or taste the rotating wine of the month. It won’t be long before you can find a Towne blonde ale or IPA elsewhere, at their new location in Anaheim.
It’s important to note that everything at Rancho Las Lomas, from the wildlife tours to the beer tasting, requires a reservation, but it is definitely worth the visit.